Posts filed under ‘shows (past)’

Human Feel in Santa Cruz

Human Feel at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa CruzHuman Feel got a predictably enthusiastic response at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, thanks to the turnout of fanboys (and girls) like me. But they also won over the Santa Cruz regulars and Kuumbwa members who’d come not knowing what to expect. I heard at least a couple of them walking away happy, in a chattering and giddy mood.

The band’s music, full of sharp-angled melodies and spans of loud improv abandon — certainly doesn’t fit the normal jazz arc, which is what attracted me to the band in the first place. But their tunes often have pleasant and traceable themes, and the band performed with convincing punch and verve. I’m sure they made a few new fans that night, and they didn’t disappoint the old ones.

The set was good, of course, and packed with energy and sweat, but Andrew D’Angelo‘s stage banter won the crowd over, too. He’s got good stage presence, but he was also gifted with some material in the form of a three-hour flight delay out of Seattle and a couple of lost bags. Airline troubles are nothing new to veteran musicians, but they still provide good stories to tell on stage.

Live soundcheck.

Live soundcheck.

The upshot was that the band, minus Kurt Rosenwinkel‘s guitar pedals and Jim Black‘s drumsticks, got into Santa Cruz just after the designated 7:00 p.m. start time. They rushed through a “live” sound check, testing out borrowed gear while we in the crowd finished our dinners and desserts.

As reward for our patience, we got D’Angelo’s spasmodic sax energy, the heavier guitar-hero side of Rosenwinkel (who spends most of the time in the background with this band, but it’s a hard-working, space-filling background) and of course Jim Black’s drumming, which quite a few people came for, judging by the crowd response. I chose to sit on Black’s side of the stage, so he drowned out the others sometimes (which is why I don’t have much to say about how Chris Speed sounded) but that was a conscious tradeoff, and I wasn’t the only one making it. We got to savor Black’s shapeshifting grooves, full of explosions, torrents, and subtle clinks and clanks.

They tried something really different on “Numer Ology,” a piece D’Angelo said was inspired by cosmic questions about the meaning of existence and the arbitrary nature of fate. Most people took it as a joke, but D’Angelo was diagnosed with brain cancer seven years ago and defeated it without chemo or radiation therapy, so these questions mean a lot to him.

The song consisted of short phrases and short improvisations, all separated by long, weighty pauses. It was at one highbrown and good-humored — and then at one point, D’Angelo picked up the mic and cued us to shout out our meaning-of-the-universe theories after the next phrase. Apparently most crowds just blurt it all out at once; we kind of did it one at a time, classroom-style. It wouldn’t have sounded great on a record, but people got into it.

If Human Feel has anything like a hit single, it’s “Sich Reped,” D’Angelo’s poking, sharp-angled 7/8 tune, and that was their closer. Most of the tune went by at a slightly slower pace than on the album Welcome to Malpesta, making for a sound that was still fun but not as jabbing as it could have been — until the end, when D’Angelo and the others opened up the throttle and poured it on. It was a great crowd-pleaser, and of course it got them an encore — a piece that D’Angelo dedicated to the airline they’d flown and that opened with a roaring, screaming improvisation.

Despite having four successful careers to juggle, Human Feel has now gotten together for two post-’90s albums — Galore, and the soon-to-be-released new album. I treated this show as my only chance to see the band, but now I’ve got my fingers crossed for the future.

July 6, 2014 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

Happy 80th, Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan's 80thIt was good to see Jim Ryan in high spirits for his 80th birthday concert last Sunday. The time slot competed with a few other good events, but the SIMM series at San Francisco’s Musicians Union Hall draws a good turnout. The room was nicely crowded and full of conversation between sets, fueled by cake and melting ice cream (the Union Hall’s performance space gets warm quickly).

Ryan handed out glow bracelets and laser rings that everyone had to wear, and he put on a good show in two sets of flute, sax, and poetry.

Beyond being a performer, Ryan has been an organizer and instigator on the scene. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, he ran a local zine, back when there were such things and most people didn’t have web sites. He also curated a few different weekly series, including one at the Starry Plough in Berkeley — a venue where the ownership and bookers are friendly to creative music, but the crowds sometimes aren’t.

I remember one show there with a group called Mosthumbz — out-there, jazzy stuff with a heavy improv component. The bar was full of regulars that night for some reason, and they were grumbling about the music. But one of their compatriots — a guy with an Irish accent, even — stood up for the music. “This is what I love about the ‘Plough. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, and he meant it. And he enthusiastically applauded every number.

Organizing creative-music shows certainly has its frustrations. Hopefully, little moments like that enhance the rewards.

View from the door: Jordan Glenn's Mindless Thing

View from the door: Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing

Ryan’s birthday concert opened with Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing. The band played drummer Glenn’s thoughtful, chamber-like compositions, which seemed to be built around Ryan’s poems, with music and words serving one another as accents and punctuation. Ryan’s poems were a gradual tumble of thoughts, introspective scenes cut with surreal changes of direction and a sense of humor.

The band was heavy in tuned, percussive instruments — vibraphone (Rob Lopez), hammered dulcimer (Damon Waitkus), piano (Michael Coleman), and guitar (Karl Evangelista) for sounds that could be placid like deep water or rustling and restless like a mountain stream. Evangelista kept the guitar volume turned down, but still shredded madly in places, creating an oddly pleasant background fuzz — it was a nice effect. Their closing piece had everyone playing homemade can-and-string instruments, gently banging and plucking away.

For the second set, Ryan led a quartet with Scott Looney (piano), Jason Hoopes (bass), and Jordan Glenn (drums) in a long, jazzy improvisation that kicked off as a fast and heavy post-bop bounce. They kept that jazz vibe going for a second piece featuring Rent Romus (sax) and C.J. Borosque (trumpet), who along with Looney had been members of Forward Energy, a Ryan-led improv band. That piece took off like a screaming rocket and kept the energy going for the most part, a good upbeat way to close out the birthday celebration.

From left: Scott R. Looney (in the shadows), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn

From left: Scott R. Looney (in shadow), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn

July 5, 2014 at 12:45 am Leave a comment

Favorite Street: Steve Lacy Remembered

ROVAIt’s hard to believe Steve Lacy passed away 10 years ago this week. Doesn’t seem that long ago.

For many musicians in the Bay Area, Lacy was a contemporary, a peer, a mentor, a correspondent, and even a fan. They knew him and admired his work, and his passing at the age of 70 was like a color dropping from the spectrum.

So when the members of ROVA Saxophone Quartet arranged a commemorative concert, it also served as a 10-year wake and a community catharsis. Held at the Community Music Center in San Francisco, back on June 6, the show was a celebration of Lacy’s music, a chance to share memories, and a repainting of Favorite Street, ROVA’s 1984 album of Lacy compositions. (The CD is even back in print, part of a re-emergence of the Black Saint record label, although ROVA noted it might be hard to find in stores.)

Steve Lacy and Don Cherry: EvidenceI wanted to see the show not just for the music, but to learn a little more about Lacy and his influence.

Bruce Ackley did a lot of the talking for ROVA, explaining how Lacy’s influence had crept into their musical lives. ROVA members would attend many a Lacy show — and he would attend theirs in turn. (Lacy, a native New Yorker, spent most of his career in Paris and was a frequent Bay Area visitor. ROVA probably encountered him in both places.)

Ben Goldberg talked about the album Evidence, which he and ROVA both mentioned as a key influence. It’s got Steve Lacy and Don Cherry, but more importantly, it came out in 1961, when Lacy wasn’t as well known. His records weren’t numerous and were hard to come by. Evidence was a portal into a new sound world and a revelation, to hear the musicians tell it.

Ben Goldberg: The Door, The Hat, The Chair, The FactYears later, Goldberg received the news of Lacy’s death just days before a previously booked studio date. That album — which would become The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact — was meant to be an homage, songs Goldberg assembled upon hearing Lacy had cancer. It turned into an emotional therapy session, as the whole community was rocked by Lacy’s passing. One track is a brief, classically styled song, “Cortege,” where the lyrics are the text of a fax Lacy sent Goldberg. The concluding line is a casual comment by Lacy that becomes poetic in its new context: “I am hardly here these days.”

Darren Johnston, Doug Stewart, Kjell Nordeson, Aram Shelton

The Concert

The first act was a variation of the quartet Cylinder, with bassist Doug Stewart sitting in for the traveling Lisa Mezzacappa. They started with a thundering take on “Trickles,” a fast-moving free-jazz rendition propelled by Kjell Nordesson’s drums and percussion. Aram Shelton (sax) and Darren Johnston (trumpet) took the lead voices, spelling out Lacy’s melodies — which have always struck me as simple and playful, but bent with a foreign accent of a country only Lacy’s mind could inhabit — and spiraling into solos inspired by the music. Johnston, in particular, seemed to be working the Monk-like strategy of using the melody to overtly build a solo (Monk being a fascination of Lacy’s, of course).

Michael Coleman and Ben Goldberg, ready for their close-upWhere the Cylinder group presented Lacy in a jazz context, the duo of Michael Coleman (piano) and Ben Goldberg (clarinet) showed off a more classical-oriented side, more akin to a recital-plus-improvisation. It turns out they were, in fact, playing Lacy’s etudes, a book of intentionally difficult exercises called Hocus Pocus. For much of the set, Coleman and Goldberg played the melodies in unison, the piano following the same fractally linear paths as the clarinet. Coleman expertly darted and dodged his way through, sometimes tripping up but always able to jump back in within a couple of sixteenth notes; it was all very impressive.

On a few occasions, Coleman had arranged chords to go along with the themes, adding unexpected and dramatic effects. “Herky Jerky” took on a deep ocean-waves color; it didn’t remind me of McCoy Tyner but it was that same monumental spirit. “Hustles,” dedicated to Niccolo Paganini, got a brief passage of insane circus music (at least, I’m pretty sure it was the Paganini piece and not the one dedicated to Karl Wallenda).

Bruce Ackley and Jon Raskin of ROVADuring ROVA’s set, I found myself suddenly paying attention to rhythms. This might have been because they opened with the funky bassline of “The Throes,” with Jon Raskin chugging away at the baritone sax. Several pieces also broke the group into a 2×2 format, with duets playing counterbalancing themes — again, tickling the ear’s sense of rhythm. While they played the songs from Favorite Street, some of them got new interpretations. (I know that not because I’m a brilliant Lacy-ologist, but because Steve Adams contributed some arrangements, and he wasn’t in ROVA in 1984.) It was a joyous set that ended with a new arrangement of “Cliches,” a track that’s not on the album.

It was a concert, a remembrance, and an education. I’m glad I was able to be there.

June 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm 12 comments

Catching Up: Adam Rudolph, Reconnaissance Fly, Dawn of Midi, Battlehooch

The past year has been really busy for me, in non-musical terms, and I’ve never caught up on a few of the things I’ve done since the fall. Most of them found their way onto these pages, but a few slipped past. Here’s the speed diary.

Chihuly Glass. The colors. So many colors.

We went to Seattle and saw the Space Needle and the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. This has nothing to do with music; it just made for easy, colorful photography — which is generally not a strength of this blog.

Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic orchestra

I enjoyed a trip to NYC in October, where I stopped by Roulette to see Adam Rudolph’s Go : Organic Orchestra. Lively horns, lots of percussion, and odd time signatures everywhere. Loads of fun.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts

I saw Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts back in February, as advertised. They played a great set that included singer/flautist Polly Moller taking up the guitar for a few songs. The band sounded great, and Larry the O, the drummer, was a revelation — a real dynamo.

Dawn of Midi, in San Francisco

Dawn of Midi came to San Francisco performing Dysnomia, their through-composed piece for piano, bass, and drums. It’s full of polyrhythmic grooves and electronica-sounding minimalism. They drew a pretty heavy crowd to The Chapel, so word’s gotten out. Apparently, they’re coming back on June 15.

Battlehooch at Cafe Stritch

Battlehooch came down to San Jose to perform at Cafe Stritch, a downtown spot that’s hosting jazz on the weekends and rock acts midweek. It was a blast, as you’d expect. They were on their way to Idaho for a festival, and they mentioned that they’ve got shows in Oakland every Friday in April.

April 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm 1 comment

Monday Make-Out, January 2014

Nathan Clevenger Group @ the Make-Out Room, SF

Nathan Clevenger Group, bathed in the Make-Out Room’s red light.

On the first Monday of every month, jazz takes over the Make-Out Room bar in San Francisco’s Mission district. It had been more than a year since I’d gone, and I finally atoned for that this month.

I arrived in about the middle of the first set — the Nathan Clevenger Group, whose new album I’d just written about. The band’s sound relies on feathery harmonies of clarinet and sax that have to work just so; one of the strengths of the Observatory album is the silkiness in the recording. I’d imagine a venue with a bright sound, like the Luggage Store Gallery, might not be so conducive to that sound.

It worked in the Make-Out Room, though, which was a pleasant surprise. The band was locked in with the harmonies and their solos, playing for a decent-sized audience, many of whom had come to truly listen to the music. Late in the set, when guest Jason Levis stepped in as a second drummer, he and Jon Arkin got into a brief, unaccompanied drum battle– and I swear, the whole bar went silent for it. They even got a few laughs when they traded off quieter and quieter sounds (the machismo of silence). It was nice to see a jazz band capture that much attention in a bar setting.

Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa were up next as duo B, a reunion of their bass-and-drums combo. Duo B used to play around town quite a bit, and I’d imagine venue owners helped come up with one of their song titles: “So It’s Just the Two of You.”

Duo B was an acoustic act, but they added an electric guitar for this set, producing a heavy sound. While the guitar did have its mellow moments, the first of two improvisations started with an electrified, industrial feel. A later segment had Levis going nuts on the snare and high-hat with Mezzacappa delving athletically on the bass. The second piece was more of a long, glorious sunburst with elements of drone; it started with some prickly guitar in an adversarial approach but ended up as an example of nicely sustained mood and coloring.

The third act was apparently Denny Denny Breakfast, performing one long, unexplained suite. On the web, DDB seems to be a pop act, the musical vehicle for Bob LaDue. What we saw was different: a fairly large band playing a long, polished, complex suite full of tricky passages at breakneck speed. It was as if a marching band had grown up in a town where Zappa chemicals leaked into the water supply. Drums and/or vibes triggered goofy synth patches as well, adding a madcap Nintendo silliness to the music.

This wasn’t throwaway stuff. The band’s charts were long and, according to one guy I was talking to, really complicated. (The charts were also photocopied just a couple hours before the show, apparently.) It was impressive.

January 26, 2014 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

Oakland Free Jazz Roosts at Duende

Duende's dining area: The view from the music loft.

Duende’s dining area: The view from the music loft.

Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.

The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.

Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.

Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.

Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.

Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.

Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.

Johnston's quintet.

Johnston’s quintet.

The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.

Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.

You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.

DSCN4269

December 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

Peter Brötzmann & Paal Nilssen-Love at CNM

Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love play Thursday, Nov. 14, at Kuumbwa Jazz and Friday, Nov. 15, at Duende.

View from the back row.

View from the back row.

What can I say? It was a hoot — and a howl, a mighty one that overwhelmed the Center for New Music‘s acoustics and turned Paal Nilssen-Love’s snare drum and cymbals into a fountain of white noise. Peter Brötzmann’s saxes came through loud and clear, though, and the sellout crowd that had come Wednesday night to hear his lung-busting improvising wasn’t disappointed.

There was no warm-up phase. Brötzmann opened the concert with a screeching blast of sax, and Nilssen-Love jumped in with full thunder — and off they went.

Brötzmann's weapons of choise.

Brötzmann’s weapons of choise.

As usual, long stretches of the sound consisted of motifs, little screamed phrases that Brötzmann would repeat a few times over Nilssen-Love’s tumult before shifting to the next phrase. Some of the best parts, though, came when things quieted down and Brötzmann’s playing got more emotional.

One quieter phase had his sax turning almost romantic, but with the volume still turned up to at least 7 and with a ragged, buzzing sound, like a lament sung by a burly king who doesn’t realize his robes are in tatters. Later, there was a more properly soft phase, with Brötzmann playing solo, featured some hardier melody and a sensitive air, until he started ramping the volume back up, encouraging Nilssen-Love to pound his way back in.

I really enjoyed Nilssen-Love’s playing, and I hope it wasn’t lost on the crowd. His solos tended toward the loud side — one solo oversaturating the snare and cymbals to intentionally create that white-noise effect, another featuring incredibly fast, rumbling toms. (The snare and cymbals are his, and the rest of the drum kit was borrowed.)

For an encore, Brötzmann turned to a melodic motif, one with an Ayler-like marching-band flair. It’s a well-played tool from his bag of tricks and seemed appropriate for a quick finale number.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

November 14, 2013 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

Kneebody and That Indie-Rock Vibe

kneebody at duende, oaklandI’m not trying to say Kneebody and The Dismemberment Plan are at all alike, but they’re linked in my head. Both are bands of whom I’ve thought, “Man, if they ever come to town, I gotta see ‘em.” And lo and behold, I found out recently that both were indeed coming to the Bay Area.

Sadly, I can’t make it to The Dismemberment Plan’s Dec. 10 date at The Fillmore. (Subtle plug there, eh?) But I did make it to Duende for Kneebody’s sold-out, raucous show on Nov. 6.

Kaven Rastagar (on mic), Ben WendelKneebody isn’t an indie rock band like The Dismemberment Plan is, but they’re probably the same age (maybe a little younger) and definitely have the vibe of a band that’s been together 12 years. (In a good way. Not in a Kinks or Oasis-brothers way.) And their music does groove and rock out; it’s just that it also gets twisty and partly minimalist — and includes swinging, blasting solos. The electric bass, electric piano, and drums create a rocking groove while the sax and trumpet push airy melodies drawn from a bright mix of post-bop and Ornette.

And I love the drums, that big sound Nate Wood can call up, sometimes pounding hard, sometimes sneaky and quick-handed with a trace of techno influence. That’s another link between the bands — in both cases, the drummer caught my attention early on.

So when Wood finally got a drum solo, to start the number “Trite” near the end of the second set at Duende, I was pretty stoked. It was a long dissertation on surges of sound, with stretches of quieter lightspeed pitter-patter. Nobody dozes off during the second set, dammit!

But the part I think most people liked, aside from the music, was the stage banter. These are intelligent and likeable guys who clearly love playing together. They take turns at the mic introducing songs, alternately praising and razzing each other in the process. They’re just hanging out, and you’re in the room too, and there happens to be a jazz show going on.

Kneebody: The Line. Source: eMusic; click to go there.As for that “minimalist” comment, I’ll explain it by pointing to “Nerd Mountain,” which bassist Kaveh Rastegar introduced as a “typical Shane song” — which came out like an insult, and we (and the band) were entertained while he tried to back his way out of that one. What I think he meant was that Shane Endlsey‘s composing often seems to be built on simple non-patterns — an irregular chugging. It’s like Steve Reich on speed or Giacinto Scelsi in a fusion band. I have to admit “Nerd Mountain” didn’t hold my attention as much as it does on record, but then it shifted into “The Line,” which ended with a soaring hard groove.

Other moments I remember: After the band opened with the airy chords of “Lowell” (the single off the new album, The Line), Ben Wendel started a long, fluid, unaccompanied sax solo that led into a really nice song (possibly “Still Play,” also from that album). “Antihero,” a Breaking Bad-inspired song with its dramatic rising melody, was one of the more powerful, slower moments. “Unintended Influences,” written by electric pianist Adam Benjamin, included a gloomy breakdown that I really enjoyed. They ended with “The Slip,” an incredible tangle of a composition from Endsley.

For more about the band, check out this great interview with Rastegar, in Denver’s Westword.

November 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm 1 comment

Sharp Attack on Strings

Elliott SharpCut With Occam’s Razor (zOaR, 2013)

Jack Quartet performing "Boreal" at New College of Florida.

Jack Quartet performing “Boreal” at New College of Florida,

As part of Elliott Sharp‘s residency at The Stone in early October, JACK Quartet performed two of his compositions — two companion pieces similiar in strategy, both dynamic and exciting. One of them, “The Boreal,” also happens to lead off Sharp’s latest CD of classical works.

I caught the concert (and a couple others to be mentioned later) during my latest visit to New York.

“The Boreal” was written in 2009, and “Tranzience,” its followup, is a new composition that got its premiere at this show. Both involve alternatives to the string bow — springs, metal bars, ball-bearing chains — mixed with traditional bowing in slashing, cathartic passages.

As with most modern pieces, there were passages of near silence as well. The JACK Quartet impressively stayed precise and focused against The Stone’s Indian-summer heat and the Avenue C street noise.

Both pieces featured stretches of one-note rhythms, played hard and fast, and lots of tapping, plucking, and scraping the strings — which was no surprise, considering how percussive Sharp’s music can be. His guitar work often involves lots of hammer-ons, and some of his homemade instruments are along the lines of the slab, a horizontal bass played with mallets. I like that stuff. My introduction to Sharp’s music was the super-percussive piece, “Larynx,” whose sections are punctuated by solos from four different drummers.

E#'s photo of the concert. (Oh sure, he gets to take pictures.) Source: the zoarmusic Tumblr; click to go there.

E#’s photo of the concert. (Oh sure, he gets to take pictures.) Source: the zOaRmusic Tumblr; click to go there.

“The Boreal” opens with short metal springs scraping rhythms against the strings, small sounds forcefully pressed into being. It produced some great sounds (more about that below), but the springs weren’t particularly nimble. The players were limited to simple rhythms, sometimes accidentally hitting little nursery-rhymey patterns. Later, the piece sent JACK through some traditional bowing but in not-so-traditional motifs: twisty passages at breakneck speed, providing some of the most exciting moments.

“Tranzience” was very much a companion to “The Boreal,” rather than a sequel. The sheet music was on long, vertical pieces of paper, for a striking and artsy visual difference, but that atmosphere and attitude continued from “The Boreal’s” foundation. So did the extended-technique implements — customized metal dowels this time. In addition to tapping the springs, these were used in a guitar-slide manner, curving a tone into a glissando by moving up or down the neck. I found myself wondering how  notated those parts are; does Sharp dictate where the pitch should start and end?

“Tranzience” started with viola and cello hammering out background notes percussively (this really reminded me of Sharp’s slab) with crazed, scattered notes from the violins. This peaked ferociously as the quartet stopped on a dime — one of many pauses during the two pieces that made for particularly exciting moments.

“Tranzience” had the more exciting coda of the two, with the four players slashed frenetically through near-unison melodies near the end.

I enjoyed hearing the two pieces side-by-side, but they’re very similar; it was an awful lot of the same colors spread across 45 minutes. But that didn’t occur to me until near the ending, maybe because I spent most of the concert not knowing what to expect. I don’t think I’d want to hear them together again — but the same can’t be said for other audiences who haven’t experienced them.

(Elliott Sharp’s zOaRmusic Tumblr, which I discovered after writing this entry, has more details about this show.)


From my copy of Cut With Occam's Razor.

Like most zOaR releases, Cut With Occam’s Razor is a limited edition.

“The Boreal” opens Cut With Occam’s Razor slowly — as I suppose it must have in concert — but quickly picks up the pace, first with springs-grinding rhythms and then with one-note unison stabbing patterns. One of the best moments comes midway through the 15-minute piece, when the players form a counterpoint with the metal springs that builds up to a big, buzzy sound with shifting tones.

The next piece, “Oligosono,” gives us a solo piano executing Sharp’s percussive attack. This track was my first exposure to that combination, with Jennifer Lin often two-handedly pounding away at a dissonant chord or even dryly hammering on one note. It produces a nice effect in those low, low registers, where the resonating metal of the strings creates its own coppery overtone.

Add to that some splashes of higher notes and quasi-prepared piano in the form of Lin holding a string down (adding a dull thud to that hammering vocabulary), and you’ve got yourself a piece. “Oligosono” is often repetitious, but it’s full of engaging patter, as in this segment.

The piece culminates in a more colorful type of piano percussion, stacking tones one after the other for an almost flowery effect.

(Sharp writes more about “Oligosono” here.)

“Occam’s Razor” is a string octet commissioned for Sharp’s 60th-birthday marathon at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. It was recorded in 2011 by the JACK and Sirius string quartets.

It’s a series of shimmering sound blasts that slowly rise and fall in intensity, while keeping all eight instruments involved for a density of sound. Long tones criss-cross in a Grand Central Station bustle, where there’s so much motion going on (passengers flitting across the huge causeway) yet so little change (the crowd as a whole, like a river, remaining in one place while continually moving).

As the pace slows, the long tones of individual players become evident again, and we’re in familiar E# territory, with percussive strikes replaced by long bowing motions. Same idea, different perspective.

After about 15 minutes, “Occam’s Razor” boils down to a quick but satisfying ending — not a fadeout, but more a collective expression of, “Yeah, that’s all we had to say.” I think I favor “The Boreal” or “Tranzience,” but “Occam’s Razor,” while more difficult to take in, is still a really good piece.

November 4, 2013 at 12:09 am Leave a comment

Sun Ra Arkestra Ought To Play Your Town

DSCN3230Seriously, this band should be working as much as they can stand. Their San Francisco concert, at the beginning of August, was amazing.

Maybe you’ve seen the Arkestra before, so maybe everything I’ll say is old hat to you. But I’ll bet there are tens of thousands of people in situations like mine: Never seen the Arkestra, would check them out for the music, and would be blown away.

The whole setup is classic Arkestra: Group-sung melodies with that 1940s swing vibe; the big-band decorum of standing up for solos; a featured female vocalist and a couple of dancers; and, of course, Disney tunes. “When You Wish Upon a Star” did make an appearance, early on. It was like an obligation fulfilled, leaving the last half of the set to soak in the more cooking, jamming numbers.

DSCN3233Marshall Allen conducted the proceedings and also contributed crazed, off-the-rails solos on saxophone and on his spacey sci-fi electric recorder. His sax would intentionally spasm and shred over the band’s steady rhythms and reverent melodies, like a Jackson Pollack frame around a gorgeous old black-and-white movie.

Many members of the ensemble are older, so there was a lot of shuffling of feet as they came on stage, but the music was tightly delivered. Some younger members are making their mark with the band as well — especially pianist Farid Abdul-Bari Barron, who was fast, fluid, and astounding. A few different songs showcased him.

The band wandered the crowd, then returned to the stage with the house lights up, encouraging everyone to dance.

The band wandered the crowd, then returned to the stage with the house lights up, encouraging everyone to dance.

Toward the end, one of the older saxophonists broke to the front of the stage and started doing cartwheels and flips. My first reaction was, “Aw, man, he’s drunk and he’s gonna hurt himself” — but as he kept going, it became apparent this guy can do cartwheels and flips. Real acrobatics, performed with strength and vigor. Again, maybe everybody else knew this about the Arkestra, but I didn’t. It was a huge surprise, and a random little bonus.

They deserved a theater better than the old Victoria, too. I can see why people would love the old place, as it hearkens back to an early 20th-century time when the cinema meant so much more.  But it’s cramped (less legroom than most airlines), and the snack bar isn’t equipped for much more than popcorn and soda — nor is it positioned to handle a long line.

The band is showing its age, of course. The older members are, well, older, including the dancer and vocalist. Their presentation might seem haphazard for television, if that were even an option. But as a jazz big-band, they’re still tight, energetic, and entertaining. All jazz fans talk about the need to see the “old cats” while they’re still around. Don’t leave the Arkestra off that list.

It was quite a line outside the theater. A sellout was never in doubt.

DSCN3231-edit

At its heart, the Arkestra is a traditional big band, with the regimen of standing up during solos.

DSCN3222

sfSound opened with two half-hour pieces — well executed, but a very different mood.

DSCN3218

Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet opened the evening with oddball electronic noise/song in the fine tradition of Caroliner Rainbow.

September 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Calendar

July 2014
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers